Introducing Suboi: the new sound of Vietnam

Vietnam’s rap queen learned English from listening to Eminem, has rapped for President Obama and is one of the ambassadors for the Kenzo x H&M campaign.
28 September 2016

A young female rapper from Asia isn’t a type of artist that often gets picked up by radio stations or receives wide coverage in the press. 26-year-old Suboi from Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon, as she prefers calling it) is on a mission to change that. She’s the rising star who manages to bypass her country’s censorship laws and spread her music to the world through new streaming services. But her biggest fan base is still in Vietnam. The fact that she’s been tapped as one of seven ambassadors of the Kenzo x H&M collaboration is definitely proof of her potential, and a stepping stone for her to reach new audiences. We reached the rapper on a crackling phone line, from Stockholm to Saigon. 

HEY SUBOI. WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND YOUR NAME?
“Hey! Well, my first name is Su, and because I was always hanging out with the boys growing up my friends started calling me Suboi. Simple as that.”

HOW HAS GROWING UP IN VIETNAM AFFECTED YOUR SOUND?
“The country is changing quickly and we’re a really young population: 70 percent of us are younger than 35. Growing up, I was expected to get married and stay at home. But that’s changing. Now I have my own company and many women are bosses. In the past, the man has been expected to go out and do big things, well I want to do big things too. My message goes out to the young people in Vietnam. That’s what I rap about.” 

WHAT’S THE OVERALL THEME OF YOUR MUSIC?
“I’m all about people expressing what they want and being themselves. When I started out, my music was often censored which I, as an artist, obviously don’t want. I started posting tunes on the Internet, and there I got to say what I wanted.”

“As a female rapper I’ve had to prove myself two or three times more than a man. When they tell me I’m cute, I tell them ‘I’m into this sh*t, I practice every day.’”

HOW DID YOU REACT WHEN KENZO AND H&M TAPPED YOU FOR THIS CAMPAIGN?
“I was pretty shocked! We don’t have H&M in Vietnam yet, and I’ve always had to buy it from other countries. I’m really happy to be a part of it. I mean I’m a rapper from Vietnam and I have my story. I love that I get to meet people like Iman and Chance The Rapper who I had only ever seen on television. I see this as a great opportunity for me.”

HOW WAS THE CAMPAIGN SHOOT?
“Oh my god! It was amazing. Being shot by Jean-Paul Goude was so cool. He was like ‘honey you give me everything I need! Let’s do a few more and we’re good!’ It was a really fun day in Paris.”

WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PIECE FROM THE COLLECTION?
“The sweater that I’m wearing in the ad and a kimono-style jacket.”

As a female rapper I´ve had to prove myself two or three times more than a man.
Suboi

YOU RAPPED FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA EARLIER THIS YEAR. TELL US ABOUT THAT!
“That was very cool! There was a town hall meeting in Saigon, where young leaders could sign up to see him speak. In the end he answered some questions. I just wanted to know how important he thinks it is for a nation to support its artists.” 

“When he stepped in the room, I was afraid I was going to forget my question and he picked lots of people to ask theirs before me. I thought ‘I can’t miss this chance!’ and stood up and screamed ‘It’s got to be me!’ Then he asked me to rap and tried to beatbox to it. It was incredible.”

WHICH ARTISTS INSPIRE YOU?
“My ‘teacher’ is Eminem. When I first heard him I thought ‘oh my god, this guy is white and he’s angry!”, so I started out rapping in a pretty rough language,” Suboi says, giving examples too foul to publish on H&M Magazine, and continues: “Since then I’ve studied the English dictionary a lot in order to become a better rapper. I love Kendrick Lamar, Lauryn Hill, Asap Rocky and Missy Elliot.”

WHAT DO YOU HAVE COMING UP? ARE YOU GOING ON TOUR?
“New music! I’m releasing it single by single and will try to tour in Europe next summer. I have most of my fans in Vietnam but I’ve played shows in Tokyo and Russia too. It’s random but cool.”

 

The Kenzo x H&M collection features clothes and accessories for both women and men and launches on 3 November in over 250 selected stores worldwide and on hm.com.

SUBOI 

AGE: 26

OCCUPATION: Rapper

LOCATION: Saigon (formally Ho Chi Minh City) 

INSTAGRAM: @justsuboi

Tags